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Ecological genetics

Molecular genetic techniques are becoming increasingly important for the study of biodiversity and nature conservation. Differences in the exact code of their DNA (genetic variation) allow not only the discrimination of different species, but also of different individuals within species. Thus, genetic techniques can be used to detect or identify species, and to assess relationships between individuals. This is very helpful for answering a broad range of applied and scientific questions related to nature conservation. Using molecular methods we study levels of diversity in ecosystems, we assess the viability of populations or the impact of management or infrastructural changes on this viability, we reveal dispersal patterns, and track the origin of individuals.

The Molecular Ecology Laboratory of Wageningen Environmental Research focuses on techniques for non-invasive or non-intrusive monitoring. Using such techniques we are able to monitor animal populations by molecular analysis of their excrements, hairs, antlers, feathers or other remains found in the field, without having to capture or even see the animals. Likewise, environmental DNA (cellular or extracellular DNA left by an organism in the environment it lives in) can be used to detect the presence of a species or investigate biodiversity based on field samples of soil or water bodies. Working with DNA of low quantity and quality, as is typically obtained from these kinds of samples, is challenging and requires both experience and specialized protocols.


Monitoring population viability:

Detecting migration patterns and barriers for genetic exchange:

eDNA barcoding:

Forensic research: